Are Games Art? – A Ramble

First of all, the answer is clearly “yes!“. But, I recently happened to read some online articles about this tired old debate and felt like giving my opinions about why games are art – in addition to giving some of my thoughts about the medium in general. And, yes, today was something of an uninspired day.

Leaving aside the obvious point about how games contain visual design, music and things like that, I’d argue that games are art because of the role they play. Whilst things are often only seen as “Art” when they are placed in galleries (as if they are sacred relics of some kind), this goes against the whole point of art. Art is there to enrich everyday life. Art is there to make us imagine. Art is there to contribute to the shared cultures that we all live in.

Art is, in the best possible way, the background to all of our lives. It’s like the bass line in a rock, punk or heavy metal song. Most of the time you don’t even hear it, but if it wasn’t there, then it would probably be very noticeable. So, yes, art is something that surrounds us all.

That song in the background? That’s art. That poster on the wall? That’s art. The design on that T-shirt? That’s art. The desktop background on your computer? That’s art. I could go on, but art is something that travels alongside us as we go through life, making the world seem more interesting, allowing us to make more sense of the world and providing material for our imaginations, thoughts and daydreams.

Whether you make it and/or are a part of the audience, art is an essential part of being human. It’s why even the earliest humans painted pictures on the walls of their caves.

If, like me, you’ve grown up with games, then you’ll know that they clearly fit that description.

For example, when a cloud of dust from the Sahara turned the skies above Britain an ominous shade of grey-orange last year, my first thought was ‘Oh my god, this is just like one of the early parts of “Silent Hill 3‘. This is exactly the same sort of thing as when I’ve seen the view from the top of Portsdown Hill at night and thought ‘Cool! This looks just like the opening scene of “Blade Runner‘.

Likewise, if I’ve been playing “point and click” games for a while then, in the few minutes after I stop playing, I’ll sometimes find my thoughts filled with sarcastic descriptions of everything I see (in a similar manner to the main characters in these games) – in exactly the same way that a novel with a distinctive narrative voice will sometimes briefly shape the tone of my thoughts after I finish reading it.

If I get nostalgic about certain times in my life, then the games I was playing at the time will be a part of that nostalgia (in the same way that the music I was listening to at the time will be). I could go on, but games fill the same role as things like music, films, books etc… do. Therefore, they are art.

One of the arguments, made by the art critic Jonathan Jones in 2012, against games being art is that they don’t reflect a single artist’s vision. Or, as Jones puts it: ‘A work of art is one person’s reaction to life. Any definition of art that robs it of this inner response by a human creator is a worthless definition.

However, this argument falls apart when compared to other artforms like film and theatre. Yes, one person might have written the script. But that script is interpreted by a director, and then further interpreted by the cast. There’s no one individual who has absolute control over how a film or a play turns out. Yet, not even the most old-fashioned of critics would deny that film or theatre should be considered part of “the arts”.

But, one area where games do fall down slightly is the topic of easy accessibility. In short, it’s less intuitive for beginners to dabble with game-making.

Unlike picking up a pencil and doodling, picking up a camera and taking some photos or picking up a cheap guitar and following a piece of tablature, it’s more difficult for a beginner to dabble in making games. Even though there are “game maker” programs out there, most of these either have a steep learning curve and/or severely limit what curious novice game developers can do.

I mean, I’d love to make games. But, I’m a visual artist and a writer instead for the simple reason that these artforms have a more intuitive learning curve. Likewise, the tools needed to make drawings/paintings, comics and prose fiction are cheap, open and widely available to all. So, even though I’ve dreamed of making games ever since I started playing them, I’ve gravitated towards these other artforms instead for the simple reason that they were more welcoming to beginners..

In addition to this, games are perhaps one of the only artforms where there are additional barriers to entry for the audience. If you want to watch a film and you don’t have a DVD drive, Blu-ray player, VCR, television or internet connection, there’s always the cinema. If you want to listen to music, then you just need a cheap radio, MP3 player or CD player (or you can go to a concert, or pick up an instrument, or just hum a tune). If you want to read the latest novels, then the hardback editions might cost £15-20 each – but they’ll probably be in libraries (if the government hasn’t under-funded them into oblivion) and/or second-hand bookshops after a while. I could go on…

Games, on the other hand, have system requirements. In order to even play a popular modern game that might cost £40-50, you also need a piece of technology that could cost £300 or much more. And it will probably become “obsolete” within 5-10 years.

Yes, there are obviously retro games and some low-spec modern indie games (eg: the games I play these days). Plus, there are mobile phones (that have games on them). Plus, there are probably a few old arcade machines (anyone remember those?) languishing in a dark corner somewhere.

But, can you imagine not being able to read a novel because you haven’t paid to upgrade to the latest version of the English language? Or not being able to see a film because your television is out-of-date etc…

Games are an artform, and they should damn well act like it! In other words, they should be open to everyone.

Yes, this might mean that games don’t have the latest ultra-realistic graphics. But, this is where the “art” comes in. If a novel can render a vividly realistic scene in the audience’s imaginations using just 26 letters, then games can get by on lo-fi graphics (that will run on even the oldest or cheapest of electronic devices). I mean, the “art” in games doesn’t come from the realism of the graphics – it comes from the story, the visual design/art style, the atmosphere and/or the experience of playing the game (eg: the gameplay).

So, yes, games are art. But, they should really take a few lessons from other artforms about being more open to both potential audience members and to those who are vaguely wishing to dabble with game-making.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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Five Reasons Why Artists Should Be Gamers Too

Although I’ve talked about computer/video games and artistic inspiration more times than I can remember (and apologies if I repeat myself in this article), I thought that I’d look at this subject from a slightly different angle today. In particular, I’ll be talking about why artists should be gamers too.

1) Thinking in 3D: I vaguely remember reading that there was actually a scientific study about this, but most artists who are also gamers will know about it anyway. I am, of course, talking about how playing 3D computer/video games can actually help you to think in three dimensions.

What I mean by this is being able to visualise the things you want to draw or paint as if they were 3D objects.

This is one of the most essential skills for making art, since it can help you with things like realistic perspective, realistic shadows, copying from life etc… Being able to see the things in your drawing or painting as three-dimensional objects (converted into a 2D drawing or painting) is an incredibly useful skill- and playing lots of 3D games can really help with learning it.

This is especially true if you play older 3D games with less realistic graphics. Because these games look less realistic, it is easier to see all of the various 3D shapes. Older 3D games also provide simplified interactive examples of things like one-point perspective (eg: any first-person shooter game will use this perspective), 3D shapes seen from different angles etc…

This is a screenshot of “Rise Of The Triad: Dark War” (1993). Although not technically a “3D” game, this screenshot shows how one-point perspective (eg: the bottoms of the two walls beside the player converge towards one point on the horizon) is an essential part of the first-person shooter genre.

This screenshot from “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” (2004) provides another example of one-point perspective, albeit from a third-person perspective.

2) Having fun with a creative work: If there’s one thing to be said for computer/video games, it is that most of them are meant to be fun. Yes, I’m aware that this is something of an old-fashioned simplification these days. But, historically at least, fun has been the primary concern of most game developers.

Having fun with games is important if you are an artist for the simple reason that it can remind you that the goal of creating things is to make something that the audience will enjoy. To make something which will impress them, make them think, evoke a particular emotion and/or inspire them creatively in some way or another.

Playing games also allows you to see pieces of artwork “in action” as part of a larger creative work (eg: as backgrounds etc..), which can remind you of the value of art.

Because games are such an immersive and interactive medium, they are a perfect way to remind yourself of the power of creativity. To remind yourself of how fascinating creative works can be and how creating things is a meaningful and important activity.

This is a screenshot from a hidden object game called “The Gift” (2012?), it’s a paranormal “film noir” style puzzle adventure game that (aside from one repetitive segment) is quite relaxing to play. As you can also see, it also contains some cool-looking art (which uses one-point perspective) too.

3) It makes you appreciate how “open” art is: This one is a bit more cynical. But, you may have noticed that all of the game screenshots included in this article are from older and/or very low-budget games.

This is mostly because the computer I’m typing this article on isn’t exactly a modern gaming machine (it’s a low-end computer from the mid-2000s, and I love it 🙂 ). Simply put, it isn’t powerful enough to play many popular contemporary games. If I didn’t love old/ low-budget games so much, then I’d probably feel like I was missing out on something.

This is a screenshot from “Blackwell Epiphany” (2014). It is that rare thing, a “modern” game that will actually run on pretty much any computer.

Of course, art doesn’t really have these problems. As long as your eyesight is ok, then you can look at any piece of art you want. You can look at everything from old paintings from the 15th century on the internet to the latest works of contemporary digital art on DeviantART. Seeing the technical restrictions that games place on their audience can make you appreciate how “open” art is by comparison. How it is something that is instantly accessible to a much wider audience.

Likewise, if you play a lot of games, then you’re inevitably going to think “I want to make a game!” at some point. Of course, even a small amount of research will show you that making a “proper” game is a complicated thing that often requires a team of people, a budget etc.. (it’s kind of like making a film in this regard). Making art, on the other hand, is something that you can do with just a pen and paper if you want to. Again, the barrier to entry is a lot lower.

4) Trickery and limitations: One of the really cool things about old games is that the designers had to make enjoyable games that would run on the low-powered computers and consoles of the time. This meant that they often had to use all sorts of clever trickery in order to make their games seem more visually-impressive than they actually were

Sometimes, designers would actually turn a technical limitation into an important feature. A good example of this can be found in the older “Resident Evil” games from the mid-late 1990s.

These are horror games that create a suspenseful atmosphere through, amongst other things, the use of fixed “camera angles”. Not only does this give the game a more “cinematic” look (and allows for more artistic compositions), but it also allows the designers to occasionally hide monsters just off-screen in order to create things like jump scares etc..

This is a screenshot from “Resident Evil: Director’s Cut” (1997) – note the unusual “camera angle” in this scene. By leaving part of the room out of sight, the game’s creators can create a sense of suspense. Likewise, notice how the stag’s head and candelabra in the close foreground help to give the room a sense of depth. Not to mention that this screenshot is a good example of three-point perspective too.

Of course, these fixed camera angles weren’t a completely deliberate choice. They were, in fact, the developers taking advantage of a major technical limitation. The reason why the camera doesn’t move is because the game’s locations aren’t actually 3D. They’re just a collection of two-dimensional pictures, with 3D characters super-imposed on top of them. It was a really sneaky way to make the game run faster and look better on the technology of the time.

Yes, making games and making art are two very different things. But, seeing game designers turn limitations into features can be a great learning experience if you’re a more inexperienced artist and/or you don’t have time to spend months on a single piece of art. Being impressed by games that use technical trickery will put you in the mood for finding time-saving tricks for your own art and/or sneaky ways to make your art look even better.

5) Worldbuilding: Finally, one other thing that makes games so useful to artists is that they immerse the player in a fictional “world”.

What this means is that everything in a game has to look like an organic part of the game’s “world”. If something seems out of place or poorly-thought-through, then it it will be immediately obvious to the player. So, good location design and worldbuilding is very important in sci-fi, fantasy, horror etc… games.

This is a screenshot from “Shadowrun: Dragonfall” (2014). The location in this screenshot is an anarchist micro-state in a futuristic version of Berlin. This is signalled to the player through the futuristic neon lighting/gadgets, some German text on the buildings in the background and the fact that the streets and street lighting look a bit more “makeshift” than usual. These are all organic elements of the game’s world that have emerged from the idea of “an anarchist micro-state in futuristic Berlin“.

As such, games contain numerous perfect examples of how to come up with more interesting or convincing locations if you are painting or drawing from imagination. Even less-perfect examples of this sort of thing can show you what sorts of mistakes you need to avoid when coming up with backgrounds for your paintings or drawings.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Short Story: “Chess” By C. A. Brown

Some games will last forever. Chess, Tina thought, wasn’t one of them. It just didn’t have the staying power of something like Minecraft, Tetris, Candy Crush or the billion variations on the same first-person shooter game which were, a Youtube video had told her, all basically versions of an old game from the early ’90s called Doom.

And that, Tina thought, was the test of a good game. People actually played it for fun.

After the local council had spent money revamping the park, they’d done the sophisticated thing of printing chess boards on some of the tables. And, as she leant against the scuffed checkerboard pattern – stained by the bases of a thousand lager cans and polka-dotted by a hundred little burns- she pulled out her phone and started playing Candy Crush.

A few minutes later, Larry showed up. Although everyone at the office thought that they were an item, they really weren’t. They just each thought that the other was interestingly weird enough to spend their lunch hour with. It certainly beat hearing the same banal conversations for the hundredth time.

As Larry sat opposite, Tina paused her game and reached into the bulky bag that was sitting next to her. She pulled out two plain cardboard boxes and handed one to Larry. He raised an eyebrow. She flashed a smug grin: ‘It’s from the stall across town. Ostrich with red pesto and parmesan. They were having some kind of closing down sale. Apparently, burgers really are more popular here.

Larry chuckled: ‘Well played. I can’t believe I didn’t think of that.‘ They ate in silence. She wondered, with a hint of smugness, whether Larry would be able to top this tomorrow.

Like all games, their lunch rota had started out as an ordinary practical thing and then mutated into something beyond all recognition. Every day, they tried to get something more unusual than the last day.

After Larry had almost caused a bio-warfare evacuation at the office by bringing in a spiky, pungent fruit called a durian, they’d had to tone things down a bit. Their new rule was that lunch had to be from within a one-mile radius and cost less than a fiver each. Although it had sapped the fun out of things for a while, they both came to relish the added challenge.

With a smile, Larry finished the sandwich and reached into his laptop bag. He produced a small, rattling sack. Tina laughed and said: ‘That better not be what I think it is.

That board has been staring me in the face for the past three months. I wanted to try it out.‘ He protested. ‘Plus, if I ever find myself face to face with Old Grim, then I want the practice.

Old Grim?‘ Tina said, closing her empty sandwich box. ‘I didn’t think that Stevenson played chess. But, it wouldn’t surprise me. I’d bet anything he’s been petitioning head office to allow him to write memos in Latin again.

No, it’s like a famous old film. Ingmar Bergmann. I haven’t seen it, but there’s that famous clip of the guy playing chess with the Grim Reaper.

Which proves my point, no-one plays chess any more. I mean, the only reason that Grim wins every time is because everyone else has spent their time playing more interesting games than boring old chess.

Exactly!‘ Something gleamed in Larry’s eyes ‘Wouldn’t it be great to catch him by surprise?

Laughing and shaking her head, Tina watched as Larry poured the pieces onto the table and started setting them out. Surprisingly, this was one of those gothic red and black chess sets. No doubt, she thought, it had been a regretted 3am drunken internet buy and Larry was trying to find some use for it.

After Larry set out the pieces and let Tina be red, they’d started. She’d moved a random pawn forwards. He’d moved a random pawn forwards. After a while, they started knocking each other’s pawns off of the board. This has continued for a few turns until Tina had spotted an opening and sent her bishop zipping across the board at one of Larry’s knights.

Of course, her glee had only lasted a few seconds before Larry had casually nudged his rook sideways and knocked her bishop off the board. Next, Tina had tried to remember the weird L-shaped pattern that knights have to follow before thinking screw it and moving a pawn instead.

With a silent laugh, Larry launched his rook across the board and removed the troublesome knight from Tina’s side. Tina had just rolled her eyes and nudged her rook sideways.

By now, they had become aware that a small crowd had begun to gather at a polite distance. With a showman’s style, Larry obliterated one of Tina’s pawns with his bishop. Raising an eyebrow, he whispered: ‘We’ve got an audience. They’re even cheering. And people say that chess is boring.

Tina rolled her eyes and let out a deep sigh. ‘Just listen. They’re jeering, not cheering. We’ll be in every viral video for the next two days. The only people who are actually playing chess on these tables.

Four Reasons Why Some Creative Works Become Better With Time

Well, for today, I thought that I’d look at why some older creative works can seemingly become better with time. This was something that I noticed when I happened to re-listen to Iron Maiden’s “The Final Frontier” album from 2010 a while before writing this article. When this album was originally released, I really liked a few songs from it but didn’t quite consider it to be one of Iron Maiden’s better albums.

But, a few years later, it seems like a considerably better album than I’d originally thought that it was. So, I thought that I’d look at a few possible reasons why some creative works can seemingly become better with the passage of time.

1) Hype and expectations: Carrying on with the example I used earlier, Iron Maiden albums are one of the few things that I tend to buy when they’re still “new”. When a new Iron Maiden album is released, it’s an incredibly exciting time. There’s a lot of expectations and pre-release information (and the occasional music video) on the internet. The same sort of thing is probably true for anything made by your favourite musicians, writers, game developers etc..

One of the advantages of revisiting things that have stopped being new (or looking for older creative works) is that they aren’t surrounded by lots of hype and expectations. In other words, it’s easier to look at these things on their own merits. If something is good, but different, then this is easier to see when your mind isn’t clouded by hype and anticipation.

It’s also easier to see these things as one stage in a band’s, novelist’s or game franchise’s creative development when you can also see later things that have been made by the same people. Being able to put a creative work in context can sometimes make it seem even better as a result (either because you can see hints of older works or newer works in it).

2) Nostalgia and historical curiosity: This is a fairly obvious one, but looking at older creative works can be a great way to “travel back in time” to better parts of our lives or to interesting parts of the past. This alone can make some creative works seem a lot better than they probably were at the time.

For me, a good example of this is an American TV show from the 1990s called “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman“. I saw at least two episodes of this on the BBC when I was a child. But, I considered it to be somewhat cheesy. It wasn’t a bad program, but it didn’t really impress me as much as other TV shows of the time did.

Yet, during a “1990s nostalgia” phase late last year and earlier this year, I ended up getting most of the show on DVD. This time round, it seemed to sum up everything wonderful about the 1990s. The fashions! The set design! The production values! The optimistic attitudes! The guest stars! The humour! The gloriously silly storylines! I could go on. But, the show seems to work a lot better as a “retro” historical artefact than it did when it was actually “modern”.

So, yes, when something goes from being current to being “a way to step back into the past” or even “a way to escape from the present day for a while”, it will generally seem better as a result.

3) You’re older: Following on from my last point, if you revisit a creative work several years after you first encountered it, then you aren’t the same person you were then. You’ve got more experience, you’re more intelligent and your tastes might be very slightly different.

As such, you’re more likely to see things that your younger self dismissed as “boring” or “crap” in a slightly different way. You’re more likely to pick up nuances or themes in a creative work that your younger self might have missed. You’re more likely to be able to empathise more with some characters than you were before. You’re more likely to enjoy things like slower-paced storytelling, philosophical depth or narrative complexity.

Of course, this sort of thing can cut both ways. Things that seemed really cool when you were younger can seem trite, superficial and/or embarassing when you’re slightly older. But, even so, it will allow you to enjoy some creative works significantly more than you did when you were younger.

4) Modern culture: This one is a bit cynical, but one reason why creative works that seemed “mediocre” when they were new can seem “amazing” when they’re a bit older can be because current culture has got worse.

When this sort of thing happens then anything from a time that you consider to be a “golden age” gets an almost instant upgrade. After all, it’s better than the modern stuff by comparison. A good example of this can probably be seen with many computer and video games.

Even slightly “mediocre” games from the past can seem better when compared to everything I’ve seen and read about their modern counterparts. For example, even the crappiest 1990s first-person shooter game will still include things like non-linear level design, imaginative weapon designs, a focus on single-player gameplay etc.. But, from everything I’ve heard about FPS games from this decade, many of them seem to be linear, militaristic, simplified, multiplayer-focused things that focus more on fancy graphics than enjoyable gameplay.

So, yes, if one of your favourite genres of entertainment has gone downhill in recent years, then even mediocre things from the past can start to look like masterpieces.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Entertainment Formats and ” ‘Jumping In’ Time” – A Ramble

2017-artwork-jumping-in-time-article-sketch

I originally wrote this article a couple of days after Christmas last year, when I found myself in the wonderful (but paradoxically annoying) situation of having several different types of entertainment on the go at the same time.

At the time of writing, I’m still in the middle of a computer game called “Shadowrun: Dragonfall” (which I will review sometime in the future), I’m watching season four of “Game Of Thrones” on DVD and I’m also reading a novel called “Brighton Belle” by Sara Sheridan.

So, with things in three different mediums, it’s hard not to make comparisons. And, for today, I’ll be looking at what I call ” ‘jumping in’ time”. No, this doesn’t refer to time gaps in stories. It refers to the amount of time it takes to start or continue enjoying something, and how much control the audience has over this.

The novel I’m reading at the moment has a really short ‘jumping in’ time. It’s currently sitting within arms’ reach of my computer desk and, if I feel like spending five minutes reading it, I can just pick it up and carry on reading. If I feel like spending half an hour or more reading it, I can also do this without really thinking about it too much.

It’s written in a way which is descriptive enough to make the novel immersive, but functional enough to ensure that the story keeps moving. It isn’t the kind of ‘slow’ novel that can take literally weeks to read, but it isn’t the kind of fast-paced thriller novel that pretty much demands that you read the whole thing in one 3-6 hour sitting. This balance between these two extremes means that it’s the kind of book that you can easily pick up at will and just read for as long as you want to.

Plus, unlike a lot of modern novels, it’s only a slender 243 pages in length. This shorter length also invites the reader to ‘jump in’ to the story by suggesting that it won’t take too long to enjoy the story.

It’s also part of a longer series (I got the first three books for Christmas), where every novel in the series is completely self-contained. In fact, I accidentally started reading the third book (“England Expects”) for about 10-20 pages before I even realised that it was a later part of the series, and switched to the first book instead.

Best of all, since it’s a paperback book, the “system requirements” aren’t that high. As long as your eyesight is good enough and you are literate, then you can enjoy it. “Brighton Belle” was first published in 2012 and it requires exactly the same ‘hardware’ to read as a book from 1992 or 1952 does. Now, compare this to a high-budget modern computer game or one of those online-only TV series that are all the rage these days, and you’ll see why it has a massive advantage in terms of being accessible to audiences.

On the other hand, the “Game Of Thrones” season four DVD boxset I got for Christmas has something of a longer ‘jumping in’ time. Not only do you have to know all of the backstory and the characters (which I do already), but the box is one of those elaborate boxes where you have to remove a cardboard sleeve, then remove a box from inside another box and then unfold a concertina before you can even get to the discs.

In addition to this, you obviously have to watch the series in almost one hour increments. Whilst this allows for easier time-planning than, say, a two-hour film – it still means that you have to set aside about an hour or more to watch it. It isn’t something that you can enjoy for five minutes, twenty minutes or one and a half hours. You can only enjoy it in strict one-hour increments.

Now, compare this to the average Youtube video. Although “Game Of Thrones” might have much better production values, a compelling story etc… the average Youtube video is only about 3-10 minutes long. They’re the kind of thing that you don’t have to put much thought into watching. They have a very short ‘jumping in’ time. Even though I really love “Game Of Thrones”, I probably spent much more time watching Youtube videos in the days after Christmas.

On the other hand, “Shadowrun: Dragonfall” has an even longer ‘jumping in’ time than all of these things. Whilst it is well-made enough to run on even fairly old computers (like mine), you have to download more than a gigabyte of data once you buy it, which can take a while. Likewise, there’s also a small 20mb patch that takes almost as long to install as the actual game does.

Although it’s really fun, it’s also a very slow-paced game. Not only are there long loading times (although this might be an old computer thing) when you start playing, but the game’s combat system is designed to be more of a slow and strategic chess-like thing.

Combine this with the fact that it will only allow you to save your progress at seemingly random points in the game and the fact that the story, characters, game world etc… are really compelling, and it’s the kind of thing where you have to set aside at least 1-2 hours whenever you want to play it.

Now, compare this to another game like “Doom II” (or, rather, fan-made levels for it). Since this game is extremely old, it loads almost instantly. The gameplay is designed to be fast, responsive and intense. It also allows you to save your game wherever you want. It’s the kind of game which you can literally play for five minutes, or an hour or whatever.

Although it would be the gravest of heresies to call “Doom II” a ‘casual’ game, it is a game with a ridiculously short ‘jumping in’ time. And, as such, my decision to play it is usually a lot quicker than it is when I decide whether or not to play some more “Shadowrun: Dragonfall”. Even if both things are extremely fun.

So, what was the point of all of this? Well, the shorter the ‘jumping in’ time for your story/comic/film/game etc…, then the more likely your audience are to return to it regularly. If your audience has a high degree of choice over the amount of time they spend with something, then they’re going to spend more time with it.

Yes, things with a longer ‘jumping in’ time can still be great, but this can also mean that the audience is more reluctant to enjoy them on a more regular basis.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Why Are There So Many Webcomics About Computer and Video Games?

2016 Artwork Gaming webcomic article

First of all, it goes without saying, but there are webcomics about a huge range of different subjects. Not all webcomics are about computer and/or video games. However, since I’m making another webcomic mini series at the time of writing (it’ll start being posted here in about three days’ time – you can catch up on the previous mini series here, here, here, here and here), I thought that I’d talk about why there are so many gaming-themed webcomics on the internet.

Whilst my webcomic isn’t a “gaming” comic, probably about a quarter of the updates from this occasional series are about computer/ video games in some way or another. In fact, there seem to be slightly more gaming-related comics than usual in the upcoming mini series. So, this made me think about this sub-genre of webcomics.

Gaming-related webcomics are hardly anything new and I thought that I’d talk about why they’re such a common and historic genre of webcomic. The first reason is, of course, that people who play a lot of games tend to be fairly familiar with computers and/or the internet. As such, when it comes to finding a venue for publishing comics, the internet was – historically- the most obvious choice.

Historically, the internet was also the medium of choice for gaming-related comics for the simple reason that gaming wasn’t always a “mainstream” hobby. Although the style of many webcomics is inspired by traditional syndicated newspaper cartoons, most newspapers in years past wouldn’t have published cartoons about a “niche” hobby like gaming. Most traditional newspaper comics are designed to appeal to a fairly wide and universal audience.

Likewise, whilst gaming magazines (anyone remember those?) might have published monthly cartoons about gaming, there weren’t really that many venues for cartoonists to publish their gaming-related cartoons in the 1990s or early 00s. Except, of course, the internet.

The second reason is, of course, the old adage of “write what you know”. If you’re a cartoonist who plays a lot of games, then it makes sense to include them in your webcomic since they’re a subject that you can draw on for inspiration fairly easily.

Since I’m pretty much exclusively a retro/ indie gamer these days (and I was also a console gamer when I was a teenager), many of my gaming-related comic updates tend to be about slightly older games. Like this comic from earlier this year, which is also one of the few gaming-related comics I’ve made that isn’t about the FPS genre.

"Damania Redux - Hidden Object Games" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Redux – Hidden Object Games” By C. A. Brown

Making comics about games, gamers and gaming is also a way to turn a fairly “unproductive” hobby into something a bit more productive. Since creating games themselves is something that unfortunately is out of the reach of many gamers, making comics about them is one of the best ways to satisfy the creative instinct. So, it’s a way for people who aren’t good at programming and/or modding to participate in the creative side of gaming culture.

Finally, games are an absolutely huge subject matter – which means that you probably won’t run out of ideas. You can make comics about every genre of game, you can make comics about people who play games, you can make comics comparing old games to modern ones, you can make comics about the latest game-related controversy (and, yes, there always seems to be at least one), you can make comics about upcoming games etc….

Plus, since games are an interactive medium, you can often find inspiration by seeing how your characters interact with a particular game. In other words, games can be either the motivation for the events of a comic or they can be the backdrop for a comic about the characters themselves. Like in this comic of mine from slightly earlier this year:

"Damania Resurrected - The Other Side" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Resurrected – The Other Side” By C. A. Brown

So, yes, these are just a few of the reasons why gaming is a fairly common subject in many (but not all) webcomics.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Does Cover Art Matter?

2016 Artwork Does Cover Art Matter

Although this is an article about books and comics, I’m going to have to start by talking about a silly videogame controversy from earlier this year. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that will hopefully become obvious later. Plus, I may have talked about some of this stuff before – so, apologies in advance if this article gets repetitive.

Back in February, there was a ridiculous amount of fuss on the internet about the planned box art for the then-upcoming modern remake of “Doom”.

The original cover art was described as generic and boring. Although it’s a cool-looking picture, it doesn’t really stand out from the crowd. It’s just a picture of a space marine posing with a gun (it also uses a rather low-contrast yellow/green/brown/orange colour scheme too). By comparison, the alternative designs later released by Bethesda look a lot more true to the spirit of the series.

The original “space marine” cover design isn’t really as good as the cover art for the original “Doom” or even “Doom II“. But, at the same time, it isn’t exactly a bad image. If I had a much more modern computer and a larger gaming budget, I’d probably still buy a copy of the new game because, well, it’s “Doom”. It’s a modern version of one of my favourite games. The box art could be completely blank and I’d still buy it.

Still, this silly controversy about the good-but-not-great box art for the “Doom” remake made me think about how important cover art actually is when it comes to things like books and comics.

Good cover art is probably only really important for catching the attention of totally new readers. Even then, it isn’t everything – the old adage of “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” springs to mind for starters. I mean, I’ve bought books purely based on cover art in the past- but it’s no guarantee that they’re worth reading.

The other thing that makes good cover art important is it’s decorative value. If you’ve got a collection of books and/or comics, then you’ll know that they’re more than just functional objects that only exist to be read. They’re a way of making a room look more interesting. They’re decorative too.

However, apart from these things, cover art isn’t really that important.

When it comes to books and comics, things like online reviews, plot summaries/ blurbs, the price, word of mouth and the author’s name matter a lot more. If you’re a major fan of a particular author, then you’re probably going to read their next book regardless of what the cover art looks like. The same is true for books that are part of a series or which are based on TV shows, movies etc…

If you’ve heard or read a lot of good things about a particular book or comic, and it seems like the kind of thing that you’d enjoy, then you’re probably going to seek out a copy of it, regardless of what the cover looks like.

Likewise, whilst a good cover design might make a new reader pick up a copy of a book or comic, this will probably only hold their attention long enough for them to read the blurb and/or plot summary. If this interests them, then they might look at the first few pages. If those pages interest them, then they’ll probably buy a copy.

The price probably plays a role too. I’m no expert on book or comic pricing, but I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve seen something that looks really cool, but decided not to buy it (or to buy it later and/or to buy it second-hand) because of the price was too high.

In other words, good cover art is important, but it isn’t exactly the be-all-and-end-all of whether someone chooses to buy something.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂